Friday 15 June 2012



This fascinating article is divided into two parts due to its length.
Part One is called "The Introduction."
Part two is entitled "Falling in Love with Israel."

Here is Part One.


Kasim is a special person. What is special about Kasim is not that he is a British Muslim of Pakistani origin. That, in itself, is not unique. What is special about Kasim is that he was once radicalized and, in his words, a few months from going to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan. Today he is a rare voice for Israel in the UK.
What is special about our conversation is that it took place in Israel. What is special about our conversation is the content.

Kasim is Kasim Hafeez, the Director of The Israel Campaign based in Britain. The sub title of his organization is “Many Voices, United for Israel.”

Barry is Barry Shaw. He was the Co-Founder of the Netanya Terror Victims Organisation, created when a serious of deadly Palestinian terror attacks struck his hometown of Netanya. He writes under the title “The View from Israel.”  He has authored the book “Israel Reclaiming the Narrative,” and is the Special Consultant on Delegitimisation Issues at the Strategic Dialogue Centre at Netanya Academic College in Israel.
They met for the first time at a small outdoor cafe in bustling Neve Tzedek in Tel Aviv on 3rd June, 2012. They discussed many of the burning issues of the moment in an honest and open manner that revealed some surprising personal confessions. Here is a transcript of their wide-ranging conversation.

K. “On the issue of identity in Britain, for my aunt and uncle there was never an issue of whether you can be British and Muslim. It was never a question.”

B. “When I lived in Britain there was never a question of dual citizenship. In cricket I supported England, still do, and my Pakistani acquaintances cheered for the Pakistani team, but there was never a question of dual citizenship. They had decided to live here. They were ex-Pakistani, but British by choice and loyal to the country of their adoption while emotionally connected to the country of their birth.”

K. “We have had this wave of immigration, primarily from the Arab world and from Sudan, Libya, even Saudi Arabia, and the young impressionable Pakistanis, who are really struggling with their identity, they look at Arabs as the gatekeepers of their faith. Unfortunately, the Islamic spread in the Arab world is the Wahabi, slash Nazi, brand of Islam, and it’s one of the fastest growing in the UK. You would think that with this heightened sense of extremism there would be more vigilance, but there isn’t. So they are literally hijacking the base in the UK, and you now have these young Pakistanis who are brainwashed into it.”

B.  When did Wahabiism come into Pakistan? Was that with Osama Bin Laden and people like that?

K. “It was actually during the first Afghan war when the Soviets invaded because that was when it opened the door to the Saudis to fund the schools and madrassahs. And General Zia, who was the ruler at the time, was very much inclined to that brand of Islam. He started the Islamification program of the country, turning everything more Muslim. He brought in the racist blasphemy laws against Christians. So the 80s and 90s was the period when Wahabiism walked into Pakistan and started setting itself in at every level. With the Taliban it began to spread over the border. The worst thing is there is a sort of proxy war going on in Pakistan between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia from the Wahabi group, and Iran from the radical Shia group, that results in the killings on the streets of Karachi. People are targets for terrorist groups. My family used to go to the peaceful Suffi shrine which became a target for terrorism, so they had to stay away to stay alive. You just don’t know if you are going to get blown up. It’s an awful situation."

B. “So how does your aunt who wears a headscarf. She doesn’t wear a burkha, right?”

K. “No. My aunt finds it repulsive. I find it repulsive.”

B. “ Would you agree that it’s a political statement rather than a religious obligation?”

K. “Definitely. When I was a radical I had a beard. Although it was a religious requirement there was a huge political element to it. And that’s the problem. I don’t agree with the burkha for a lot of reasons but it has become a political thing. The whole issue of the burkha is to be modest, anonymous, not to be noticed. You’re going to notice someone wearing a burkha. Let’s be honest, it defeats its own purpose.”

B. “It is possible to be a devout Muslim in Britain and yet be integrated in Britain. Just as there are Orthodox Jews who you can recognize by their appearance yet they feel themselves to be totally British. Clearly so. You can integrate and accept British norms without wanting to turn it into an Islamic Caliphate.”

K. “Yes. One of the most frustrating things that I find is that when I try to speak out against extremism, and I speak in support of Israel,  and  you have certain Jewish and Christian organizations, who are doing multi-faith and interfaith activities with these extremists, and I think, ‘You’re not helping us at all. You’re not. You’re not going to have to get your sons out of these extremist groups. So that giving these people any sort of legitimacy and not saying ‘You’re the problem” it just makes the situation so much worse.”

B. “Are you saying that extreme Islamic groups in Britain participate in interfaith to receive some sort of legitimacy?”

K. “Yes, I went to an interfaith meeting with a local imam who seemed a moderate. So we went to a synagogue and they patted each other on the back and did their usual photo-op, and said how they should all get along. Israel wasn’t mentioned at all. The very next day at the Friday prayers he was promoting Walt and Mearsheimer’s book ‘The Israel Lobby’ Its’ an awful anti-Semitic book, and I thought ‘It was only yesterday that you were shaking hands with rabbis saying we are all in this together and now – this?’ I don’t understand it. Well, I do. It’s the naivety of the other faith groups. It doesn’t help. When I was in Canada I warned them to be careful of your enemies who will share a stage with you and shake your hand and call you brother and sister but behind closed doors it’s a completely different thing. That’s what happens. It’s awful, but that’s what happens. I get criticized within the Muslim community because of the things I say and people, more recently, say ‘but why are you saying these things to everybody else?’ My answer is because this is the problem. It affects our community as well. These things are a problem and our community has not dealt with it. We have to deal with it. We have to be the cure for the problems we’ve created, but people need to be aware of it.”

B. “How difficult is it for you to get on TV programs, the BBC or whatever, to have your views expressed openly, to have this discussion? Is it a problem for you personally for your own personal safety and security? Or is it that the editorial staff of TV channels won’t go for it because it’s too sensitive and controversial an issue and they don’t want to get involved in it?”

K. “For the BBC it’s definitely an issue they don’t want to get involved in. Let’s be honest, in the UK at the moment there is this ideology of ‘don’t piss off the Muslims’. Muslims, radicals, can do whatever they want because they know it’s not going to be criticized on TV.”

B. “As an Israeli who wants peace I have come around to thinking that to make peace you have to be what I call a ‘pragmatic realist’ instead of a ‘utopian dreamer.’ Some in Israel, and a lot of people outside of Israel say, ‘Yes, we all want peace. If only Israel would get back to 1967 lines then everything in the garden will be lovely, and we will have peace.’ We won’t. We really won’t. We were utopian dreamers when we pulled out of Lebanon and out of Gaza and we got Hizbollah, Hamas, and rockets.”

At this point we had a three way discussion on English football when the waiter arrived with the coffee and commented on Kasim’s Chelsea shirt. The waiter told us that he supports Liverpool. I told him that his team needs a wealthy Arab owner like my team, Manchester City, or a rich Russian owner that pumped money into Kasim’s favourite club. We talked about the drama of City’s league victory.

B. “Football is a great leveler, worldwide. Everybody finds a common language in football. Your shirt just proved that.”

K.  “My sister works in a nursery. It’s another funny story. She wears an Israeli Air Force T-Shirt that I got her..”

B. “Really!?”

K. “Yes. She is pretty much level headed on these things, but she’s very worried about the growing radicalization. She is getting kids in the nursery, it’s the Wahabi mosque, and you’ve got kids who are saying they can’t play with certain kids because they are not Muslim. That’s really worrying. That’s dangerous, really. The response I got from an article that appeared in Ynet (an Israeli website) from people I have known for many years, people who I would count as moderate, surprised me. You’ve got this mix of people who are not extremists but, when it comes to Israel, are extremists. It’s because they have been told lies from day one. Everything that I learned about Israel was lies. Palestine never existed. There has never been a Palestinian state. Yet you ask any Muslim it’s literally Israel came and took over the Palestinian state. It was Israel who said ‘no’ to the Two-States. It was the Arabs that wanted it. The facts don’t exist in the Muslim psyche.”

B. “What sort of problem do you have explaining that when Israel reconquered the land in 1967 it wasn’t Palestine, it was occupied by Jordan who took it off the Jewish state in 1948 in a war of aggression? And before that it was a British Mandate. And before that it was part of the Ottoman Empire, so Turkish, if you like”

K. “Yes.  Exactly. One day they were Jordanian. The next day they suddenly were ‘Palestinian’ when Israel took over? What’s all that about?”

B. “Yes. That was said by Whalid Shoebat. Right?”

K. “Yes. The narrative is so skewered. Israel has the narrative based on facts and truth but you’re not good at getting it out there. One of the biggest problems that affects me are the left wing Jewish organizations like Yachad and JStreet that say if you walk out of all the territories the world would love you. No they won’t. They will squeeze you and take more territory. That is the sad point. I know. I was on the other side. When I was anti-Israel it wasn’t a case of ‘We just want a part of your state.’ No. We want a Palestinian state minus an Israeli state.”

B. “Can you make that argument in England to a Muslim audience. Or ask them the question ‘Are you for a Two-State Solution, or a state without Israel?”

K. “I would say that 99.9% of those who are active do not want Israel to exist.”

B. “Oh, sure, but does the mainstream subscribe to that?”

K. “The thing is, they think its stolen land. They think there was a Palestinian state and one day the Jews came and took it over. That is the problem. If that never happened they have to cope with the reality. The argument I always use is ‘How can you deny any Israeli right to sovereignty when you are from Pakistan?’ We took a slice of India and turned it into our country because we were afraid of being a minority without security and safety. How can you deny Israel, that has a much stronger claim both historically and religiously, the same thing? How can you claim your own sovereignty while denying Israel their sovereignty? It’s ridiculous.”

B. “And you also had the exchange of populations with millions of people moving into different territories because they identified themselves as being either Indian or Pakistani. They weren’t kept in refugee status by UNWRA for sixty years which is also part of the problem.  Tell me, Kasim. Do you have any problem trying to get your case across to the British Government or Members of Parliament on how to stop the radicalization of the Muslim community by being pragmatic over issues like this?”

K. “This is the thing. I spoke to my Member of Parliament to lobby to have a moment of silence at the London Olympics to remember the athletes that were murdered in Munich forty years ago. He told me. ‘It’s very difficult for me. You understand what I mean?’ He represents a constituency with a vocal Muslim minority. I didn’t know what to say.”

B. “But if those athletes in Munich had been British athletes….”

K. “Exactly. If they had been from any other country….If anyone has a problem with that they shouldn’t be at the Olympics. It’s not about politics. It’s about innocent people who were murdered at the Games.”

B. “…And the Olympic Movement call themselves a fraternity, but when some of their members get slaughtered they sweep it under the rug. It’s disgusting!”

K.  “Exactly.”

No comments: